Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup



Butternut squash soup can be found at just about any cafe or gourmet take-out this time of year. I love it. It's one of my favorites: hearty, sweet and warming. But there are times when other sweet winter vegetables require a moment in the spotlight.
We were blessed with a very successful sweet potato crop this year. Digging up the harvest was a total thrill (in gardening terms). I have been picking away at them all winter long to accompany steak in the form of oven fries, appearing alongside poached eggs in the mornings, or roasted whole to enjoy on their own, their tender skin caramelizing under the heat of the oven.
When I went to the basement to collect a few items for soup, I decided to go off my classic butternut squash course and reached instead for the sweet potatoes.
Roasting them with onions and garlic adds a fair amount of depth to the finished product, as does the creamy health-giving fat from whole coconut milk. A touch of fresh ginger and spices, and you may never look at a humble sweet potato the same way.

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup: (feeds a crowd)
*5-6 medium sweet potatoes
*1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
*4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
*olive oil for drizzling
*4 cups chicken stock
*3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
*1/8 teaspoon curry powder
*1/8 teaspoon coriander
*sea salt and pepper
*1 inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
*large pinch dried red pepper flakes
*1 can whole high quality coconut milk
*cilantro or fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 375.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Wash sweet potatoes. Place on baking sheet with the onion and whole cloves of unpeeled garlic. Peirce sweet potatoes a couple times each with a small pairing knife.
Drizzle everything on sheet with olive oil, making sure to coat onions and garlic. Bake until sweet potatoes are soft, about 45 minutes to one hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Place a heavy soup pot over medium heat with chicken stock.
Peel skins away from sweet potatoes (they should slip off flesh fairly easily) and discard.
Place sweet potato flesh in the pot with roasted onion. Peel and discard papery skins from the roasted garlic. Add to pot. Reduce heat to low.
Add the cumin, curry, salt, pepper, coriander and ginger. Stir. Remove heat and allow to cool slightly.
Working in batches, puree soup mixture in a large Cuisinart or blender. Transfer puree to a large mixing bowl. Repeat with remaining soup mixture.
Return pureed contents to the soup pot.
Set over medium low heat. Add the coconut milk and red pepper flakes. Whisk.
Heat thoroughly before adjusting seasonings and serving. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley.
Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Maple Popcorn



One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year: a gallon of maple syrup from the small town of Wolcott, Vermont (thank you Nancy). A gallon is enough to have fun with, unlike most times when I'm only lucky enough to have a quaint half pint, which I hoard and selectively drizzle on special occasions only.

While winter pruning today outdoors, the thought of fairground kettle corn leapt into my brain. The sweet, salty, crunchy combination born from those dark kettles can't be beat. The thought did not go away. So naturally, I came home and did what any snack obsessed person in my situation would do, and hashed it out in the kitchen.
If I closed my eyes while I crunched on the perfect, sea-salted, maple concoction, I could almost hear the faint music from the ferris wheel.

Maple Popcorn: (serves 4)
*3 tablespoons refined coconut oil
*1/4 cup maple syrup
*3/4 cup popcorn kernels
*sea salt to taste

*The key to this recipe is getting the temperature just right. Too low and the corn will not pop. Too high and the maple syrup will quickly burn. A standard medium heat does well.

Begin by placing a large heavy pot (fitted with a lid) over medium heat. Add the coconut oil, maple syrup and a dash of sea salt. Allow to heat until gently bubbling. Add the popcorn and cover with a lid. Keep a close eye on the liquid. If it begins to brown, lower heat slightly.
Once corn begins to pop, keep the pot moving over heat to keep from burning. Once popping tapers off, remove lid quickly (keeping any condensation from dripping onto popcorn).
Immediately transfer to a large metal bowl.
Sprinkle with additional sea salt and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cherry Almond Quinoa with Navel Orange Vinaigrette

I like the versatility of quinoa. This nutty grain has nourished natives of the Andes mountains for over 6,000 years, but has only recently become widely known in popular health cuisine. It is excellent as a breakfast porridge, blended with shredded coconut, nut butter, dried fruit, sweet spices and yogurt.
Here we have a sweet and savory version, speckled with tart dried cherries, toasted almonds, clementine slices and tossed with a tangy navel orange vinaigrette. I highly recommend adding a healthy dose of creamy goat cheese to finish it off. Pairs well with pastured pork, grass-fed steak, goose or turkey. Bon app├ętit!

Cherry Almond Quinoa: (serves 6)
*1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
*2 cups chicken stock or water
*1 cup unsweetened dried cherries
*1 celery stalk, sliced diagonally very thin
*2/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
*1-2 clementines, peeled, seeds removed, segmented
*goat cheese (optional)

Navel Orange Vinaigrette:
*juice from one navel orange
*1/8 cup white vinegar
*1/4 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
*1 garlic clove
*1 teaspoon honey
*pinch sea salt

In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and stock/water to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes).
Remove from heat. Fluff quinoa with a fork. Set aside.

Meanwhile blend all ingredients for vinaigrette together in a blender. Vinaigrette will be slightly thin. Set aside.

Transfer quinoa to a medium mixing bowl. Add dried cherries (cherries should be added while quinoa is still warm to help soften), celery, and toasted almonds. Mix. Begin pouring in the vinaigrette, gently mixing to incorporate.
Finally, add the clementine segments and goat cheese (optional) and gently toss. Season with additional sea salt and pepper if desired.
Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Year of Blogging













This month commemorates one full year of food blogging for this girl in an apron. To be honest, the fact that I ever even took the plunge is still a surprise. I always found the word itself to be off putting. Blog: it sounds like a congestive aliment or some sort of British slang to describe a less than fortunate individual or situation. "I think I'm coming down with a blog," or "that unlucky blog has no street sense." Even though I still sort-of dislike the term, it is what it is, and blogging has proved a highly creative outlet for me and many many others.
I am constantly impressed by the talent put forth by fellow blogger's sites. It makes me recognize all the skill and passion behind what may have once seemed an ordinary public. I once thought that blogging was nothing more than a narcissistic way of publishing one's personal life's diary, (not that this doesn't exist), but what I have come to appreciate is the diversity blogging represents. The personal diary sites still serve their purpose, still have vast readerships,
and I suppose many cannot possibly figure out how someone like myself would limit a entire blog's subject matter to food. Is there possibly enough material out there to talk about food and recipes for years on end? Well, yes. Decades.
So while some are processing their feelings and therapy sessions, discussing the world of edibles is my own version of the same thing perhaps. Food happens to be serious therapy for some. Chopping, slicing, sauteing, the smell of onions and garlic hitting a hot buttery pan, harvesting, braising, plating, serving, eating, watching loved ones eating; this is the stuff dreams are made of. This is what keeps some of us well rounded, sane individuals.
Eating happens to be a political, environmental, social, and communal act as well. I have not been able to ignore these topics here on this blog, and I realize it is at times a little risque. But I thank you for sticking with me. I am honored to have this outlet, to have such passionate readers and fellow cooks showing their interest and support.
One thing I can say for sure, the world of edibles and its impact on human life will keep
my full interest until the day I leave this planet!


Click here to view my very first post: What Remains. . .

The fish carcass in this picture prompted me to begin blogging. After dinner, I snapped a picture and decided to check out the blogging scene. I created a page, posted the pic with a corresponding recipe, and it officially all began.
My understanding of what is appealing when photographing food has changed tremendously since those earlier posts. I have learned a lot, been humbled often, and am still having plenty of fun with it all.







Thank you so sincerely for reading!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Spinach Pie




This time of year, when warmer temperatures are still a long way off and everything sparkles with fluffy snow, I begin to pine for green. I'll take it in any form; may it be the pale stems of indoor forced Narcissus shooting upward toward the light, the contrast of a bright red cardinal perched on a spruce, or a little tuft of frozen grass peaking through the snow. As lovely as these glimpses are, they are isolated versions of the blanket of vibrant green awaiting us in the spring.
So today I filled up my grocery cart with a few green things, despite the distance they had traveled. I have been coined a neo-luddite many times before, yet throughout each day I am beyond grateful for modern conveniences such as hot running water and my beautiful Macintosh. Like so many others however, I feel as though some of these conveniences, especially when it comes to food, (grapes available year round for instance) have the potential to make us loose sight of reality. That said, I have a wonderful way of shelving my luddism often, especially when the organic spinach in the bulk bin seems to literally be glowing with green life.
This long winded reflection brings me to today's recipe: spinach pie. My weakness for green is equally matched with a weakness for butter pastry, so I went ahead and let them mingle. Raw jersey milk, fresh eggs and a sprinkle of grass fed cheddar hold it all together.
Many thanks to the distant farmer or greenhouse worker for sending a little green from their place to mine.

Spinach Pie:
*2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
*1 medium sweet onion, chopped
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*6 cups fresh spinach leaves
*4 fresh eggs
*2 cups whole milk
*dash of nutmeg
*sea salt and pepper
*2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

For Pastry:
*1 1/4 cup whole grain organic pastry flour
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
*8 tablespoons cold high quality unsalted butter, cubed
*3-4 tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven to 375.
Place dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulse. Add the butter and blend until it resembles a course meal. Slowly pour in the ice water with blade running until dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured work surface. Form dough into a disk and wrap in parchment. Chill for 15 minutes.
Return dough to work surface. Roll out with a rolling pin to desired pastry thickness, about 1/4 inch.
Place in a deep dish pie pan. Trim edges and crimp. Pierce dough with a fork all over.
Place parchment paper on bottom surface of dough, fill with dry beans or pie weights.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Allow to cool slightly before removing parchment and weights.

For filling:
Set a large skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add the onion. Saute until translucent. Add the garlic. Saute 2 minutes more before adding the fresh spinach. Season with sea salt and pepper. Allow spinach to wilt slightly before removing from heat.

Sprinkle bottom of prepared crust with the breadcrumbs.
Mix the eggs, milk, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour into crust. Add the wilted spinach mixture.
Sprinkle with cheese of your choosing such as feta, gruyere, swiss or cheddar (optional).
Bake for about 40 minutes or until top is golden and filling is set.
Cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Moment


The very last page of SAVEUR is always a treat. Each issue ends with an image depicting a moment in food history. December's issue closed with a photo of a Jewish bagel vendor taken sometime in the late 1800s in Kishinev (now Moldova).
Everything about this photo drew me in: the man's cap and traditional full beard, his large handwoven basket, his simple leather boots, even the iron gate in the background. Such an uncomplicated photo, but to me it captures a complex time in history, religion, food culture and community. This is an image of a tradesman. Most likely he was not a wealthy man such as his fellow butcher, but none-the-less, peddling the humble circles of boiled dough surely kept other food on his family's table.
Reading more, I learned that observant Jewish households traditionally made bagels at the end of each Sabbath. Because cooking and baking are restricted during observance, bagels represented a quick alternative to other types of bread, easily made at the conclusion of Sabbath.
Today, bagels are often served at Jewish events due to the spiritual representation of their shape. The circle is believed to affirm wholeness and "ward off the evil eye."
I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I would have liked to have purchased a bagel from the man in this photo, and perhaps known a bit more about his life. I wonder what kind of tea he drank and out of what kind of cup? What his home looked like? Who he confided in, and who repaired his shoes?
Another fine example of how simple fare such as a basket full of bagels once represented more than just something to eat, it represented an intriguing individual's livelihood long since passed.

*Photo featured in SAVEUR December 2010 issue. Photographer unknown. Image provided by Yivo Institute for Jewish Research.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Artichokes with Hollandaise



Ever since I was a little girl I have loved eating whole artichokes. On special occasions my mom would buy each of us one, steam them until tender and place cups of drawn butter next to each plate. A large bowl was set in the center of the table to discard the dipped and tooth scraped leaves. When we would get to the much anticipated heart, mom would help us remove the tiny hairs which failed to develop into distinguishable leaves. This was the best part, dipping the tender heart into melted butter and slowly savoring.
To this day I enjoy the same process. An artichoke is still a treat, and I still prefer them whole with a buttery sauce for dipping. Maybe I am attracted to the journey presented by eating artichokes. Each leaf pealed away reveals what seems like an endless pattern of increasingly smaller and softer leaves, leading to the cherished meaty heart.
Lemony hollandaise is the perfect compliment to artichokes, and really, this post is more about how to execute this blissful sauce more than anything else. It is a good sauce to know how to make since hollandaise instantly elevates a poached egg or poached fish into pure luxury.
Hollandaise is not as hard to make as it has been made out to be. All you need to keep in mind is the importance of temperature and textures peacefully coming together. None other than the wise Julia Child could instruct a cook better on the ways of doing so. I highly recommend page 79-80 in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for full instruction. However, I will recap below. Dip, nibble and enjoy.


Artichokes:
*2-6 whole artichokes
*1/2 lemon
*sea salt

Rinse artichokes under cold water. Cut away top 1/3 of artichoke to remove sharp leaf tips. Cut off most of stem ( I like to leave a bit to peel and eat with the heart)
Set a large pot filled 3/4 with cool salted water over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Add 2 wedges of lemon.
Place artichokes in boiling water. Reduce heat to a soft rolling boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, begin hollandaise.

Hollandaise Sauce: (serves 4-6 people)
*1 1/2 sticks high quality unsalted butter
*3 egg yolks (room temp)
*1 Tbsp cold water
*1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
*sea salt
*pepper
*2 additional Tbsp butter, separated and cold

Cut the 1 1/2 sticks of butter into small pieces. Melt in a small saucepan. Set aside.

In a separate saucepan, whisk the egg yolks for one minute until they become thick. Add the lemon juice, water and a pinch of sea salt. Whisk another half minute. Add a Tbsp of the cold butter without mixing it in. Place the saucepan over extremely low heat and whisk yolk mixture until it begins to slowly thicken, this will take about 2 minutes. Make sure heat is on lowest setting to keep the yolks from thickening too quickly. You will begin to see the bottom of pan between strokes and the yolks will turn light and thick when done.

Remove from heat and whisk in the last Tbsp of cold butter.
Slowly begin adding the melted butter while continuing to whip the yolk mixture, adding quarter teaspoons at a time until sauce becomes smooth and thick. You can then begin to add butter more rapidly, whisking while doing so. "Omit the milky residue at the bottom of butter pan."
Season with additional sea salt, lemon or pepper to taste.
Serve warm. Hollandaise can be kept warm over very low heat for up to one hour.

*An Important Note: If you are a calorie counter, I am sorry. This sauce is not intended for you. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Recent Highlights

After returning from a trip North to welcome the most incredible nephew into the world and visit with some very dear friends, I am finally back to the blogging sphere. Breaks are good I have come to realize. I enjoy checking out completely for a number of days in a row to be fully present and focus on the beautiful people and special moments life has to offer. The perfect head of chocolaty black hair swirling on my nephew's tiny little head, the laughing and storytelling between friends; these are the moments that are brief and best experienced without the interruption of email and facebook. That said, I wanted to share a few photos from my stay with friends in Napanoch NY, right outside the Hudson Valley and Catskills mountains.

Food is a shared passion between these friends of ours, in fact I have learned much from being in the kitchen with them. And although they are in the midst of completely remodeling their country home, Megan and Matt prepared delectable fare with modest kitchen accessibility.
The first evening while the wood stove roared and snowflakes flew, Megan made a lovely venison stew (provided by Matt's swift hand this hunting season) featuring pungent onions and creamy potatoes from their garden. Seasoned with fresh herbs, red wine and a homemade venison demi-galce, Megan completed the dish with a top layer of pastry which was baked to golden, flaky perfection.

Dinner precursor: locally crafted aged goat milk cheeses with olive oil saltines


The first stages of venison stew

The final morning of our stay, I was treated with a simple yet elegant birthday breakfast of thick french toast made with locally crafted breads, poached fresh farm eggs and crispy bacon. The best part was the drizzle of Matt's homemade maple syrup provided by the sweet sugar maples abundant on their property. Such a treat.

Birthday breakfast

Eating, baby holding, being with family and long time friends, 2011 has started off with a most meaningful and palatable bang!